When Liking Someone Influences Choice

Last week my vacuum broke. I was chatting with a friend about it and she suggested getting the same brand she has. I immediately felt a pull to purchase that brand even though I knew that I should research its reliability, price, and features before making a decision. I was responding to the influence of liking. When we like someone, we typically let her opinions and recommendations sway our decisions more than if we are neutral about or don’t like someone.

Several things contribute to liking someone including how attractive he is and whether she compliments us. Although your immediate reaction may be that there’s no way we are THAT superficial, study after study has shown that we form immediate responses based on things as trivial as this. This isn’t to say that deeper thinking can’t counteract or balance these responses, just that these responses are there, hardwired into our brains.

For nonprofits, using liking can be a great way to capture someone’s attention so that they are ready to listen to your more reasoned arguments. While finding a friend to promote your organization or issue is ideal, there are more efficient ways to use liking to your organization’s benefit. Finding a spokesperson who demonstrates one or more of the following qualities will go a long ways:[i]

  1. Physical attractiveness – If someone is attractive, we want to listen to her. Attractiveness also creates a halo effect, influencing our feelings about other traits about that person.
  2. Similarity – If someone is similar in his opinions, personality traits, dress, background, or life-style, it helps us to form a bond with that person.
  3. Compliments – When someone compliments us, we respond by developing positive feelings toward that person.
  4. Repeat exposure – Seeing someone repeatedly causes us to like her, unless that person is encountered under unpleasant conditions.
  5. Cooperation – Someone who can develop a sense of common goals can bridge rifts and strengthen liking because we feel he is on the same team with us.
  6. Association – When we can associate an organization’s issues, ideas, or spokesperson with a popular cultural focus, a celebrity, attractive people, benefits, and popular concepts such as freedom or peace, we are more likely to have positive feelings toward that idea or person.

For commercial advertisers, a likable spokesperson is often all they need since they are trying to create a spur of the moment decision. Nonprofits, on the other hand, typically are trying to create long-term attitude or behavior change. Liking can serve as the introduction to an idea that will then facilitate a more in-depth relationship to the organization or issue.

This is how the vacuum purchase worked for me. I used my friend’s suggestion as the starting point for research. I didn’t end up buying her recommended brand, but I now know a lot more about vacuums and am happy with my new purchase.

[i] Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised (New York: Harper Business, 2007).

Image source: http://www.appliancesonlineblog.com.au/vacuums-floor-care/vacuuming-your-baby-other-oddities-5-vintage-vacuum-ads/

Engaging the Power of Collective Action

This week marks the 29th anniversary of the arrival of the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament in Washington D.C. after a nine month trek on foot across the United States. Participating in the peace march with a thousand other committed souls was a defining era of my life, in part because of the sense of collective action I built with others.

There is something about joining in collective action that is incredibly inspiring, uniting a group of passionate people who are actively working to create a better world. The relationships we built survive to this day; we continue to inspire each other with the myriad ways we are interacting with our world to create positive change.

The peace march was undoubtedly a unique situation, but a sense of collective action is something that is of benefit to any organization. Collective action is defined as a collection of individuals acting as a cohesive unit (in person or virtually) in which they have adopted a shared definition of a problem.[i] Working together and sharing meaning creates a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization, the cause, and to each other.

Nonprofits can think of their communications with members and the public as one of the building blocks for collective action. Social movement scholars recognize that there are three components to any persuasive message calling for collective action: a diagnosis of the problem, a proposed solution (prognosis), and a call to action. Using an example promoting gun safety legislation from the League of Women Voters of Oregon:

  1. Diagnosis: What is the problem? Who is responsible? “There are critical loopholes in current background check legislation.”
  2. Prognosis: What is the solution? “Legislators need to know these are common sense health and safety measures, not infringements of Second Amendment rights.”
  3. Call to action conveying collective value and urgency: “This is too important for Oregon not to move forward. Help make your vote count.”

The diagnosis, prognosis, and call to action all help to create a shared understanding of the issue and a sense of collective power and urgency. Next time you are writing any type of communication intended to change attitudes or behaviors, think about including all three components in order to build a sense of collective action, whether planning a cross-country march or simply circulating a petition.

Image used with permission © 1986 DanCoogan.com, 602.220.9192, All Rights Reserved

[i] Bert Klandermans, “Framing Collective Action,” in Media and Revolt: Strategies and Performances from the 1960s to the Present, ed. Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Erling Sivertsen, and Rolf Werenskjold (New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2014), 41–58.

Rational Brain; Emotional Brain

Lately I have been noticing two distinct sides of my brain. My default operation is to respond to things intellectually, analyzing pros and cons, looking for logic and reason. However, I have a deep-seated need to express and respond to emotions as well. I nourish this side by reading good books, watching movies, and sharing feelings with my loved ones.

It turns out that, according to psychological research, everyone has these two sides, and they manifest themselves into two basic ways of responding to information: emotional and rational. Our brains, of course, are not literally split in this manner but it is a useful metaphor for envisioning the way we process information and make choices. From the perspective of those wishing to change attitudes or behaviors, whether it is to buy a new razor or protest the development of fossil fuels, they can choose to frame their messages to appeal to the rational or emotional side of us.

Rational appeals are those that are logically oriented, using facts and numbers, as opposed to emotional appeals, which are oriented toward eliciting positive or negative feelings. Take, for example, a Harry’s Razor ad: “Every man deserves a quality shave at a fair price.” This is a mostly logical argument about monetary value. On the other hand, Gillette appeals purely to emotions with this ad: “Notice how much she wants to kiss you since you switched razors? You’re welcome.”

At a nonprofit where I used to work, discussions would ensue about whether something that relied on emotional appeals was somehow cheating; trying to influence people to support or oppose an issue without engaging their rational side seemed like encouraging them to use poor decision-making skills. Others would defend the emotional plea, pointing out that those appeals are often the only way to get someone to start paying attention. Which side is right?

The science is interesting, and still developing in this area. What we know right now is that rational appeals are more effective with certain people or in certain contexts than emotional appeals, and the reverse is true as well. It just depends on the person’s natural orientation, how they have been primed by recent experiences, and the importance of the decision. We also know that both our rational and emotional sides work in concert to help us make fast and accurate decisions most of the time.

Advertising studies in particular have found that emotional appeals overall have a larger influence on persuasion. It’s possible that the results skew toward emotional appeals in advertising because purchasing a product is often less serious than other kinds of decisions we make. Thinking again about razors, we know that all razors are going to do the job we need them to do. So the reason to pick one over another, after accounting for small differences in price and features, will likely simply come down to how the product makes us feel. Even bigger purchases like cars or houses have a lot to do with our feelings about the product and what it says about us. Does this apply to nonprofits?

Some nonprofit marketers suggest we can take the advertising results and apply them directly to nonprofit work, and others reject this idea. I think it depends on a number of factors:

  1. In a pool of similar organizations where the differentiations are minor, emotional appeals can help someone identify which group she will find the best cultural fit.[i]
  2. When addressing an audience with little knowledge about an issue, emotional appeals can help that audience initiate thought about the issue.[ii]
  3. When addressing an audience that is already knowledgeable and concerned, rational appeals will provide longer-term attitude or behavior change than emotional appeals.[iii]
  4. On the other hand, if the audience starts off opposed to your message, rational appeals often cement attitudes even further in the direction opposite what you intend.[iv] [There is some data that says this is counteracted when accompanied by an image. See my earlier post on influencing naysayers (http://wp.me/p6CWME-7).]

Ultimately, it may be a combination of the two that works best. The emotional appeal at the beginning gets people’s attention and piques their interest. Following with a rational appeal solidifies that interest and helps commit any changes taking place in attitude or behavior to last longer than the next few minutes. However, it’s always important to evaluate who your audience is and what your purpose is before deciding. What has worked for you?

[i] Rita Clifton, ed., Brands and Branding, 2nd ed. (New York: Bloomberg Press, 2009).

[ii] Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo, “The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion,” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 19 (1986): 123–62.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Martin Fishbein et al., “Avoiding the Boomerang: Testing the Relative Effectiveness of Antidrug Public Service Announcements before a National Campaign,” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 2 (February 1, 2002): 238–45, doi:10.2105/AJPH.92.2.238.

Image source: freeimages.com/Tory Byrne

The Digital Divide: Closing Doors

As a nonprofit employee, I often found myself excited to take advantage of all the free opportunities on the internet. My organization could save lots of money by promoting its activities and publishing its information via social media, e-newsletters, and on our website. All the low- and no-cost possibilities seemed to open so many doors for us. But what if we closing doors for others at the same time? Hurting more than helping by relying on these means?

The internet was supposed to eliminate limits to information and expression. These limits often times kept people in their place, unable to be upwardly mobile if they couldn’t afford a tutor to help them with math or a resume writer to help them with the best way to present themselves when applying for a job. With the advent of the internet, anyone who had access to a library computer could watch a video explaining the difference between an isosceles and a right triangle or could search examples of the best resumes and resume advice. The great equalizer, right?

However, things didn’t turn out that way. Research has shown us that quite often technology has ended up increasing rather than decreasing social stratification. Hence the digital divide: those who have access to quality internet technology are gaining more and greater advantages over those who do not. Accessibility issues go beyond simply having a device or connection; connection speed, skill level, autonomy, physical ability, and comfort level all play a role.[i]

By relying more and more on the internet to disseminate information and change attitudes, nonprofit organizations often unwittingly contribute to the digital divide. For many organizations this runs counter to their purposes. It seems organizations are stuck between a rock and a hard place – spend limited resources on outreach or continue to contribute to a problem that may be ethically difficult to justify.

Here are some approaches for limiting or counteracting the effects of the digital divide:

  1. Research your audience. What technology do they have access to? Use what they use, even if it means spending money to reach them where they are.
  2. Make sure your information is not only smartphone accessible but also mobile friendly. Pew Research Center found that 15% of Americans have no or limited access to the internet aside from their smartphones.[ii]
  3. Use opt-in SMS messaging when appropriate. According to Pew Research Center, 92% of US adults have cell phones; of those, only 68% have smartphones.[iii]
  4. If your donor base is using different technology than your client base, you can target each group using different methods. However, don’t silence your client’s voices. They can speak in their own words to donors and supporters through technology that you provide, which helps to amplify perspectives that might not be otherwise heard.
  5. Make sure your online information follows accessibility guidelines for people with disabilities.
  6. Provide resources in audio, large print, at a lower reading level, and in other languages.

While it may be tempting to take the fast and easy road, promoting everything online in a format that’s comfortable for you, remember the people for whom we are closing doors. Without their participation, each organization’s impact will only be a pale shadow of what it could be.

What has your organization done to decrease the digital divide? Share your ideas in the comments.

[i] Eszter Hargittai and Yuli Hsieh, “Digital Inequality,” in The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies, ed. William H. Dutton (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), 129–50.

[ii] Aaron Smith, “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015,” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, accessed November 2, 2015, http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartphone-use-in-2015/.

[iii] Monica Anderson, “Technology Device Ownership: 2015,” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, accessed November 2, 2015, http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/technology-device-ownership-2015/.

Image source: freeimages.com/E_B_A_